East Cocalico leaders talk regional police force

By on February 25, 2015

Features that make creating Cocalico Regional Police Department a beneficial move were outlined by East Cocalico Supervisors recently for the Ephrata Review.

East Cocalico Police serve East and West Cocalico Townships, Adamstown and Denver boroughs. Representatives from these municipalities, the police department, school district and citizens are working to keep the East Cocalico Police Department and operate it as a regional department with a governing board, replacing contracted service from East Cocalico.

Supervisor Alan Fry, unable to attend the meeting with Supervisors Doug Mackley, Noelle Fortna, and Manager Mark Hiester, was reached by phone.

“I’m eager to see a regional force and hope we can reach an amicable agreement. I feel I’m a custodian for the township and our security is important,” Fry said. “We have an excellent, community oriented police force.”

Supervisors discussed the following key points about the proposed regional force.

* No buy-in cost. Existing vehicles and equipment will be transferred into the proposed regional agency.

* East Cocalico has paid more than its equitable fair share of 52 percent of the pension payment this year and will do so again next year. In 2015 East Cocalico paid 100 percent of the pension payment, which equaled $372,000. In 2016, East Cocalico agreed to pay 75 percent of the pension plan. This amount of $109,000 is about 23 percent higher than its equitable share.

* Each municipality is to get a quarter of the vote of the regional agency.

“That way each municipality has an equal say, regardless of size,” Hiester said.

* A unanimous vote during the first five years is required for the most important decisions of the regional agency. Included in the police board’s proposed contract are items such as apportionment formula revisions; relocation or building projects relating to police headquarters; and approval/financial allocation for any other municipality interested in joining.

“We want to try and make this thing (regionalization) work,” said Mackley after reviewing items above.

A point of contention by some in other municipalities is that they had no say in the $2.3 million unfunded part of the police pension, which stands to be inherited by the proposed regional police commission.

“The state considers our plan to be minimally distressed, like half of the municipal police pension plans in Lancaster County,” said Hiester.

Included in this category are Akron Borough, Columbia Borough, East Hempfield Township, Elizabethtown Borough, Lancaster City, Lititz Borough, Manheim Township, Manor Township, Mount Joy Borough, Northwest Regional Police Department, Quarryville Borough, West Earl Township, and West Hempfield Township.

“All minimally distressed plans are considered Level 1 by the state,” Hiester said. The ranking within the category is not that important, and the state makes no requirements on departments in this category.

“East Cocalico’s police pension is 76 percent funded, and it is getting healthier,” said Hiester. “The median is 86 percent (number in the middle of the range, with an equal number of numbers below and above it) so we’re not far below that.”

The unfunded liability would only be an issue if all officers retired tomorrow. It’s designed, over time, to fund its liability as long as municipalities are paying their minimum municipal obligation (MMO).

For one municipality to put additional money into the plan, as a few people have suggested East Cocalico do, would unfairly burden that municipality’s taxpayers.

“It could also limit funding from other sources,” said Hiester. “For example, right now our officers contribute 5 percent of their pay.”

Another hard to predict financial cost is post-retirement health benefits.

“Last year what we thought was just a few hundred dollars of health care premium increases (typically $300 -$400 more person), increased more than $1,000 per person,” supervisors said.

Hiester, after polling other police departments, said, “most do as we do – pay as you go. We’re all in the same boat. While you can’t count prior, existing conditions, insurance companies use age-banding, and we happen to have a more mature force.”

“We’re committed to this plan for regionalization,” said Noelle Fortna, and there were positive nods around the table.

“Taking the latest census figures, East Cocalico projected costs for each municipality,” Mackley said.

For example, per household weekly costs would be: Adamstown, $8.28; West Cocalico, $6.22; and Denver, $7.03.

Per person costs per week would be: Adamstown, $2.39; West Cocalico, $2.05; and Denver, $2.58.

“Comparing other costs which many people consider necessary,such as cable, fast food, or coffee purchased outside of the home, our excellent police force is a bargain,” said Mackley.

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